RHS Beginners guide to planting

Plants will provide changing colours, shapes and character to your garden throughout the year

Watch our video on adding colour to the garden

RHS Beginners guide to plantingPlanting trees and shrubs

Trees and shrubs provide height, so give an extra dimension to your garden. With careful selection they can also provide colour for seasonal interest throughout the year whether with flowers, fruit, autumn leaves or winter silhouettes.


Select the right size and number of trees to fit with the size of your garden, bearing in mind the mature height and spread. Look to have one or two trees in a small to medium garden. Too many trees or potentially large trees may outgrow their space.

We can offer you suggestions for trees and shrubs suitable for the conditions in your garden and provide you with a step-by step guide on when and how to plant.

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What trees and shrubs are best for my garden?

Take a look at our comprehensive guide to looking after garden trees and shrubs and see our list of suitable plants for different locations.

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Strawberry tree (Arbutus)

Hawthorn (Crataegus)

Whitebeam (Sorbus aria)

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)







Holly (Ilex aquifolium)







Industrial/built-up areas

Barberry (Berberis)

Sun rose (Cistus)

Smoke tree (Cotinus)

Mock orange (Philadelphus)


Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)


Maple (Acer)

Tree of heaven (Ailanthus)


Ornamental apple  (Malus)

Ornamental cherry (Prunus)

Ornamental pear (Pyrus)

Willow (Salix)

Badly drained soil

Flowering quince (Chaenomeles)



Hornbeam (Carpinus)

Willow (Salix)


Silver birch (Betula pendula)

RHS Beginners guide to plantingHow do I plant a tree or shrub?

  1. Remove plants from containers or fabric wrapping (some specimen trees specify that the wrapping be left on under the terms of their guarantee, but normally fabric wrappings should be taken off)
  2. Tease out and spread the roots to get an idea of their spread. Dig a planting hole that is no deeper than the roots, but is up to three times the diameter of the root system
  3. If the sides or base of the planting hole are compacted, break the soil up with a fork before planting
  4. With container grown plants, the top layers of compost should be scraped away, and the point where the roots flare out should be near the soil surface
  5. Place the plant in the planting hole
  6. Refill the planting hole carefully, placing soil between and around all the roots to eliminate air pockets
  7. There is little evidence that adding extra fertiliser and organic matter to the planting hole helps; in fact this practice can hinder plant establishment as the organic matter decomposes and may cause the plant to sink. There is also less incentive for the roots to grow out into the surrounding soil
  8. Firm the soil gently, avoiding compacting the soil into a hard mass.
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More information

  • Read more advice on planting trees and shrubs

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RHS Beginners guide to planting

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.